Posted by Edelweiss Patterns on November 23, 2011
If you have ever wondered, “What is the difference between silk shantung and silk dupioni?”, this article is for you! If the question has never crossed your mind before, I highly recommend taking a few minutes to learn the differences between dupioni and shantung, two of the most magnificent fabrics on the market.
For ages, silk fabrics have been accepted as the creme’ de la creme’ of fashion fabric. Whether it was for Elizabethan gowns, Regency frocks, Civil War ballgowns, Edwardian wedding dresses, 1930s evening wear, or 1950s party gowns, silk in its various forms has been indespensible. In Europe and the Far East silk has long been esteemed as the finest fabric for royalty to wear, and in America our First Ladies rarely appear on camera without it. Today, two of the most popular and elegant silks are silk dupioni and silk shantung. Those luxurious, textured fabrics with the crisp feel and brilliant lustre are often seen in formal gowns, party suits, wedding attire, and the occasional heirloom christening gown.
But there is often a level of confusion as to what exactly differentiates between a dupioni and a shantung, as they have so many similiar characteristics and can be used for most of the same purposes. In fact, even silk fabric vendors will sometimes neglect to properly categorize their fabric labels, leaving customers confused as to which is really which. But since I spent years working in one of America’s largest bridal fabric stores, I got to experience and handle on an every day basis the feel, body, and appearance of these two magnificent materials, which I hope can be a help to those who are curious as to their differences.
Besides the obvious difference of origin (“dupioni” being Italian and “shantung” being Chinese), there is only one clue as to which category a silk falls into:
Silk Dupioni has much more prominent slubs (those crosswise irregularities in texture) and is the thicker of the two materials, almost comparing to the feel of a light or medium weight taffeta. Dupioni has an almost rustic look to it in weave only, but the incredible sheen and vibrant colors that silk dupioni is known for can render it suitable for prom dresses, bridal gowns (when paired with an appropriate lace), dazzling women’s suits, and even baby outfits.
So what will dupioni not work for? Of course that is a question which ultimately the seamstress will need to determine, but any pattern that requires a drapey fabric or a very smooth sort of “satiny” material will not work well with silk dupioni. Dupioni is generally cut with the slubs stretching horizontally across the garment, which is exactly how it should automatically turn out if you use your pattern layout instructions as directed. However, I have known several women who were concerned about these lines adding visual width to their outfits, and therefore decided to re-determine the yardage layouts to accomodate the slubs going lengthwise for a more slenderizing look.
Silk Shantung has hardly any slubs, and those that it does have will be much smaller in thread width than a silk dupioni. In addition, while the silk shantung will still have a fair amount of body and that lovely crispness, it will usually be much thinner than the dupioni and will therefore be suitable to more delicate garments. Silk shantung can almost appear flowing, and is the perfect “happy-medium” between a drapey silk charmeuse and a stiff silk dupioni or taffeta. Besides the popular uses of silk in home decorating and quilting projects, silk shantung is terrific for evening wear, flower girls’ dresses, bridal gowns or sashes, fabric flowers, First Ladies’ gowns, or any special occasion that calls for an exquisite outfit. Historically, this fabric is very similar to a silk used in the Regency era (1795 – 1820) for ball gowns, whereas a true dupioni is completely inaccurate for the time period.
Unless you can go to a fabric store nearby and spend a few minutes feeling the difference between these two fabrics, you may not notice a difference right away. But with some practice you will soon learn to differentiate between the two, and will enjoy the benefit of determining exactly which material will work best for your next project.